More than 900 US flights were already canceled as of 9 a.m. Friday after one of the worst days of travel yet as the summer holiday season heated up. More than 1,750 US flights were canceled Thursday, according to FlightAware, which tracks flights in real time.
At New York’s LaGuardia Airport, more than a third of flights were canceled Thursday, and more than a quarter of flights were dropped at nearby Newark Liberty Airport in New Jersey.
The cancellations come less than three weeks after airlines kicked off the summer travel season by canceling about 2,800 flights in the five days around Memorial Day weekend.
It happened when the airline’s chief executives held a virtual meeting with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg — a sign of the Biden administration’s concern about the prospect of crowded airports and dissatisfied travelers this summer.
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“I’ve told them this is the moment when we’re really counting on them to provide reliable services to our traveling public,” Buttigieg told NBC News.
During the meeting, which was held via video link, Buttigieg asked chief executives to describe steps they are taking to run smoothly during the July 4th holiday and the rest of the summer, according to a person familiar with the call but not authorized to discuss it publicly. .
Buttigieg also pushed airlines to check if they can handle the schedules they’ve posted, and improve customer service, the person said.
Industry officials appreciate the opportunity to speak with Buttigieg and “discuss our shared commitment to prioritizing the safety and security of all travelers,” Nicholas Calio, president of the Airlines of America commercial group, said in a statement.
Airlines are experiencing a shortage of workers, especially pilots, which is compromising their ability to operate all of their planned flights. Pilot unions in Delta, America and Southwest said their airlines were too slow to replace pilots who retired or took leave of absence during the early part of the pandemic.
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Two Democratic senators said this month that the weekend’s performance “raises questions about airline decision-making.” Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal and Massachusetts’ Edward Markey said delays and cancellations “are so frequent that they have become an almost expected part of travel.”
Airlines blame the bad weather on the Federal Aviation Administration, the arm of the Department of Transportation that manages the country’s airspace. In a letter to senators, Calio outlined a long list of FAA delays and staffing problems over the weekend.
Airlines competed with the Federal Aviation Administration this spring over delays in Florida, where air travel has recovered more quickly than many other parts of the country. After a meeting with airline representatives in May, the FAA agreed to increase staffing at an air traffic control center near Jacksonville and make other changes.
Concern about aviation problems comes as the number of air travelers in the United States climbs to more than 2.2 million a day. That’s still about 300,000 fewer per day than in mid-June 2019, but the crowds will grow over the next several weeks and almost certainly break the pandemic-era record set the Sunday after Thanksgiving last year.
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Jams may appear at gateway airports as travelers enter the United States. Last weekend, the Biden administration dropped a 16-month requirement that people test negative for COVID-19 before boarding a flight to the US, and that decision is expected to boost international travel — United Airlines said Monday it saw an immediate increase. In searches abroad. flights.
Another threat: The FAA is urging airlines to quickly upgrade equipment that may be vulnerable to radio interference from the new wireless service. The agency’s acting director, Billy Nolen, told airlines Wednesday that Verizon and AT&T plan to operate hundreds of 5G C-band transmitters near airports on July 5.
Dire predictions of fallout from wireless carriers’ initial C-band service failed to materialize early this year. However, Nolen said the FAA cannot promise that there will be no problems with some aircraft. He said industry officials have found a way to retrofit several aircraft with problematic equipment by the end of the year and others in 2023.
Shares of the six largest US airlines fell between 6% and 9% Thursday, as tensions over the economy faltered the broader market.
Contributing: Eve Chen, USA TODAY